If the franchise were limited to heads of state of formerly communist countries, President Leonid Kuchma might win re-election in October in a walkover. President Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland endorsed Kuchma at the end of June. Then Haidar Aliev, the president of Azerbaijan, followed suit. And last week, at a working “no necktie” summit with Kuchma near Moscow, Russian President Boris Yeltsin joined in.

By helping Kuchma, Yeltsin hopes to block a communist victory in Ukraine that could strengthen the Russian left before December’s Russian parliamentary elections. Yeltsin’s endorsement came with a commitment to a rescheduling of Ukraine’s oil and gas debts with no interruption of Russian deliveries. The endorsement and the energy deal are intended to undercut charges by Ukraine’s leftists, who generally favor Ukraine’s participation in a Russia-Belarus Union, that the pro-West Kuchma cannot deal effectively with Russia. To boost Kuchma’s Russian credentials, Yeltsin may visit Kyiv in September, and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) may hold a summit in Crimea in October, just days before the balloting.